The Astoria City Council is considering a new ordinance aimed at reducing panhandling in the roadway.
The ordinance, which passed its first reading unanimously Monday night, would make it a $75 traffic violation to give or take something from a car window while a vehicle is on the roadway.
The rule change grew out of safety concerns and complaints from businesses like McDonald’s and Safeway, said Astoria Police Chief Geoff Spalding.
Both establishments have had complaints from staff and customers about homeless people soliciting cars from the sidewalk.
Todd Tobey, who owns the McDonald’s on Marine Drive, as well as six other McDonald’s restaurants on the coast, said panhandling has become increasingly more aggressive over the years and makes many of his customers uncomfortable.
A similar ordinance helped reduce this behavior at his Lincoln City location, he said.
“We’ve got a problem in this town, and this simple ordinance really is just a deterrent,” Tobey said.
City councilors supported the ordinance, seeing it as a good tool for law enforcement to influence behavior.
“I heard a very wise police chief say at a meeting of homeless advocates on homeless people that the group needs to focus on behaviors,” City Councilor Roger Rocka said. “And this is something that focuses on certain behaviors.”
The new ordinance comes as a homelessness solutions task force looks at a fine forgiveness program to help homeless people climb out of debt. Some homeless people have let small fines accumulate because they do not appear for Municipal Court.
The fine would apply to drivers and panhandlers.
The ordinance is mostly intended to be an educational tool, Spalding said, reserving the citation only for people who have been warned multiple times. Part of the education would come from posting signs that let people know the act is illegal.
From a police perspective, most of Spalding’s concerns center around having people stop in the road, whether it’s at the drive-thru or at a crosswalk, to give something to a panhandler.
Drivers stopping abruptly or for long periods of time can lead to road rage incidents or car accidents, Spalding said, and also puts the person walking out to the car in danger.
“We’re not trying to prevent panhandling. We are just saying don’t do it somewhere that isn’t safe,” Spalding said. “If you’re going to do it, go park your car in the parking lot and do what you need to do. We’re not saying don’t do it, just don’t do it in places that aren’t safe.”